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Leasehold campaigner slams cladding fund

Written by: Emma Lunn
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick is expected to announce a £5bn bailout fund to help flat owners living in blocks with dangerous cladding.

But the funding is likely to limited to buildings higher than 18 metres, with leaseholders in smaller buildings forced to take out crippling loans.

The development comes nearly four years after the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people.

Around the country, about 20,000 high-rise blocks still have the same cladding as on Grenfell Tower.

An estimated 186,000 flats in nearly 3,000 tall developments are wrapped in other types of flammable materials. The figures exclude hundreds of thousands of medium-rise flats (below 18 metres) that are also thought to be affected.

Campaigners have repeatedly called for the government to fund the removal of dangerous cladding, and fix other fire safety defects. But, instead, thousands of leaseholders have been billed five-figure sums for cladding removal, remediation work and waking watches.

The charges mean flat owners are unable to remortgage or sell their homes. At least one leaseholder has gone bankrupt, while others report mental health issues and financial stress.

Meanwhile, developers, builders, freeholders, insurers and councils who signed off the buildings as safe have not had to pay.

Sebastian O’Kelly of the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership described Jenrick’s announcement as “a bitter disappointment for leaseholders everywhere.”

He said: “It is shameful to treat leaseholders differently depending on an arbitrary factor like building being height.  Today leaseholders in tens of thousands of buildings less than 18 metres have been told they will pay 100% of the costs of fixing others’ mistakes. Leaseholders in buildings above 18 metres may still face ruinous costs of fixing non-cladding defects.

“Nearly four years after Grenfell, this government has repeatedly promised that the unsafe buildings would be remediated and that leaseholders would be protected from the costs.

“To be clear, these costs are the result of systemic regulatory failure and corporate malfeasance. The government’s dither and delay has seen leaseholders risk their physical safety, suffer extreme anxiety and been held hostage in unsellable, unsafe flats  The government’s inadequate, heavy-handed, headline chasing interventions  have already forced leaseholders to pay out over £1bn in interim safety measures.”

At the beginning of February Labour leader Keir Starmer set out a series of demands to tackle the cladding scandal. These include a new National Cladding Taskforce, modelled on the successful approach taken in Australia, being set up.

In some good news for some leaseholders, Persimmon has announced a £75m provision to help fund the removal of potentially unsafe cladding on its buildings.

The housebuilder said work may be necessary on 26 sites, including nine high-rise buildings over 18 metres. Persimmon insists the buildings met all regulations at the time of construction.

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